BUILDING A LADDER TO THE STARS

(Please note this is an article I published previously on spacedaily.com as ‘Building A Tower To The Stars’ which you can read by clicking HERE)

In his 1979 novel ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ Science Fiction author Arthur C Clarke imagined a not-too-distant future where technology would have progressed so far as to allow us to engineer a material strong enough to be used as a cable connecting an orbiting satellite with the ground – a concept commonly referred to as ‘The Space Elevator’ or ‘Tether’.

It involves having a satellite in near-Earth orbit, with one tether stretched out into space, attached to a heavy object acting as a counter weight, against a line that is dropped to Earth from the satellite and secured to the ground. The satellite remains fixed in synchronous orbit, and the counter weight would keep the line held taut. A vehicle would be used to go up and down this line, much like an elevator, moving with relative ease to and from Earth orbit. As Clarke notes in his book, perhaps it is easier to think of the Space Elevator as being something stretching not upward toward the stars, but outward… that is, 35,000 kilometers outward.

The idea is not originally Clarke’s however, although he certainly brought it to widespread attention in 1979 with the publication of his novel; the Space Elevator it has its roots more in science fact than science fiction.

The key idea behind it dates back to 1895, when a Soviet Rocket Scientist named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky – inspired by the Eiffel Tower – proposed an idea for building a solid free-standing tower from Earth’s surface, reaching up 35,000 kilometers into space. He proposed that from the top of this tower, objects could be launched into space with relative ease into orbit. However the lack of a material strong enough to support its own weight at such a height proved the concept beyond human capability. Still, the underlying idea of simply connecting ground and sky, as opposed to travelling from ground to sky, stuck.

Later, in 1959, leading Soviet Engineer called Yuri Artsustanov followed on from Tsiolkovsky’s work when he conceived of the Space Elevator as we think of it today. It is worth mentioning that Artsustanov drew on not just one but two concepts of Tsiolkovsky’s – the huge tower reaching up into space, and the geostationary satellite, theorized by Tsiolkovsky in his 1903 work ‘The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices’.

This concept was further developed by Clarke himself in 1945, as an idea for communication satellites in geostationary orbits. This led to the obvious: the Satellite Television, GPS, etc, that we all take for granted today. The extent of the impact Tsiolkovsky’s work had on the early thinkers of the twentieth century is obvious – the most famous example of his influence might well have been the successful launching of Sputnik into space; showing that a geostationary orbit could be sustained by a man-made object. This allowed Artsustanov to base his concept of a Space Elevator in known truth – making it a more viable idea.

The attraction of the Space Elevator concept is not only how environmentally friendly it would be, but also how cheap it would be compared with current rocket technologies with the cost of sending anything up into space at roughly $20,000 per lb. Using the Space Elevator technology would be many times less than that.
Another factor is the level of public interest. People need something new to get excited about. Since the heydays of the Space Race in the 50’s and 60’s, public interest in leaving our planet has waned severely. Perhaps that is partly due to the fact that we stopped heading to the moon and seemed more content remaining within Earth’s orbit. It could be because of the amount of time it takes to plan, and implement each separate mission; losing public interest in the waiting. And surely the reality of how much each mission into space currently costs is a factor also. With the Space Elevator, we could travel from a point on Earth’s surface into space, without the need for rockets, and at a dramatically lower cost. It would also be safer; removing the danger involved in riding an over-sized firework.

We could ferry supplies to an orbiting Space Station such as the ISS with ease. Even the ability to launch Satellites and Space Probes without the need of a rocket would be money well saved. Indeed the uses of the Space Elevator concept, and the opportunities that it opens to us, are immense. The technology would have a profound effect on not only the way that we reach space, but on what we do next.

Imagine a Space Elevator not only on Earth, but on the Moon as well, helping us to establish and maintain a Moon Base on the lunar surface. Perhaps even ferrying processed lunar ore to awaiting transports to bring back to Earth. And what of Mars? The problem with a manned mission to Mars is the difficulty of establishing a base on Mars, and the logistics of getting back off of the surface. With a Space Elevator on Mars, a single ship could be sent to Mars and left in orbit whilst the surface is explored. The astronauts could then return to the ship via the Elevator, and head back to Earth.

The other proposed use of the Space Elevator concept, is in using the tethers to slingshot objects away from Earth into space. With the counter weight at one end of the tether, and for example a space probe at the other, the tether would transfer momentum to the probe, throwing it away from Earth at great speed. This would not only negate the need for a probe to circle the Earth continuously until it had picked up enough speed to break away from Earth’s gravity, but it might also mean that a probe’s journey into deep space might be that much quicker, given the kick start.

There are several drawbacks to building a Space Elevator, the biggest of which is the production of a material that is suitable to be stretched tight over tens of thousands of kilometers, and endure great weights and strains from various forces. The other is the immense cost of actually getting such a ‘construction’ built. However, there has recently been a resurgence of interest in the concept, and amongst several ongoing projects to build a Space Elevator is a recent announcement by Shuichi Ono, Chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, of their intent to build a Space Elevator with a trillion yen price tag.

Only the future will tell if such grand plans come to see fruition.

It is very clear that if we want to go back into space, and send people like you and I there, then we need to make travelling to space as cheap and as easy as possible. We cannot continue to rely on rocket technology, which is hundreds of years old, and far too expensive (the average cost sending the Space Shuttle into space is around about $450 Million).
We need to use technologies that can get Mankind to and from Space cheaply, quickly, and regularly. The development of new, strong materials that will allow us to build things like the Space Elevator will be a major factor in allowing us to do that. Surely the key to getting Mankind back into space is to make space a tourist attraction and allow companies to make money by taking them there.

In much the same way that airlines and jets offer to us the prospect of travelling anywhere on the globe, in the future they must be able to offer trips into space, the moon, and perhaps other planets. And they will not do this by using rockets. A rich elite may be able to afford such trips in rocket-powered craft, but not the everyday men and women who have spent their lives looking up at the night sky and wishing they could reach out and touch it. To open space to the masses, travel to it must be cheap and safe, and we must be able to send one trip after another. Links from the surface to the stars, and the advances in Science and Engineering that will make them possible, will help make going into space a realistic dream that will not be confined to only the super rich.

In the near future, perhaps within our own lifetimes, such trips might be as simple as riding a train… they might even be just as cheap.

This article is dedicated in my own little way as a tribute to the memory of ARTHUR C CLARKE (1917-2008) who was a visionary and a Grand Master of Science Fiction

INCIDENT IN ROSWELL

In May 1995 a 17 minute black and white film of an autopsy of alien bodies, found in supposed crash in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico in June/July 1947 was presented by a man called Ray Santilli.

From the Wiki for the incident in Roswell, which provides a quick over-view of what happened:

On July 8, 1947, Roswell Army Air Field public information office in Roswell, New Mexico, issued a press release stating that personnel from the field’s 509th Bomb Group had recovered a crashed “flying disc” from a ranch near Roswell, sparking intense media interest.

The following day, the press reported that Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force stated that, in fact, a radar-tracking balloon had been recovered by the RAAF personnel, not a “flying disc.”

A subsequent press conference was called, featuring debris from the crashed object, which seemed to confirm the weather balloon description. This case was quickly forgotten and almost completely ignored, even by UFO researchers, for more than 30 years.
Then, in 1978, physicist and ufologist Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Major Jesse Marcel who was involved with the original recovery of the debris in 1947. Marcel expressed his belief that the military had covered up the recovery of an alien spacecraft. His story spread through UFO circles, being featured in some UFO documentaries at the time. In February 1980, The National Enquirer ran its own interview with Marcel, garnering national and worldwide attention for the Roswell incident.

Additional witnesses added significant new details, including claims of a huge military operation dedicated to recovering alien craft and aliens themselves, at as many as 11 crash sites, and alleged witness intimidation.

In 1989, former mortician Glenn Dennis put forth a detailed personal account, wherein he claimed that alien autopsies were carried out at the Roswell base.

Glenn Dennis’s account:

“In July 1947, I was a mortician, working for the Ballard Funeral Home in Roswell, which had a contract to provide mortuary services for the Roswell Army Air Field. One afternoon, around 1:15 or 1:30, I received a call from the base mortuary officer who asked what was the smallest size hermetically sealed casket that we had in stock. He said, ‘We need to know this in case something comes up in the future.’ He asked how long it would take to get one, and I assured him I could get one for him the following day. He said he would call back if they needed one.

“About 45 minutes to an hour later, he called back and asked me to describe the preparation for bodies that had been lying out on the desert for a period of time. Before I could answer, he said he specifically wanted to know what effect the preparation procedures would have on the body’s chemical compounds, blood and tissues… I offered to come out to the base to assist with any problem he might have, but he reiterated that the information was for future use…
“Approximately an hour or an hour and 15 minutes later, I got a call to transport a serviceman who had a laceration on his head and perhaps a fractured nose. I gave him first aid and drove him out to the base. I got there around 5:00 PM.

“Although I was a civilian, I usually had free access on the base because they knew me. I drove the ambulance around to the back of the base infirmary and parked it next to another ambulance. The door was open and inside I saw some wreckage. There were several pieces which looked like the bottom of a canoe, about three feet in length. It resembled stainless steel with a purple hue, as if it had been exposed to high temperature. There was some strange-looking writing on the material resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics. Also there were two MPs present.

“I checked the airman in and went to the staff lounge to have a Coke. I intended to look for a nurse, a 2nd Lieutenant, who had been commissioned about three months earlier right out of college. She was 23 years of age at the time (I was 22). I saw her coming out of one of the examining rooms with a cloth over her mouth. She said, ‘My gosh, get out of here or you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.’ She went into another door where a Captain stood. He asked me who I was and what I was doing here. I told him, and he instructed me to stay there. I said, ‘It looks like you’ve got a crash; would you like me to get ready?’ He told me to stay right there. Then two MPs came up and began to escort me out of the infirmary. They said they had orders to follow me out to the funeral home.

“We got about 10 or 15 feet when I heard a voice say, ‘We’re not through with that SOB. Bring him back.’ There was another Captain, a redhead with the meanest-looking eyes I had ever seen, who said, ‘You did not see anything, there was no crash here, and if you say anything you could get into a lot of trouble.’ I said, ‘Hey look mister, I’m a civilian and you can’t do a damn thing to me.’ He said, ‘Yes we can; somebody will be picking your bones out of the sand.’ There was a black Sergeant with a pad in his hand who said, ‘He would make good dog food for our dogs.’ The Captain said, ‘Get the SOB out.’ The MPs followed me back to the funeral home.
“The next day, I tried to call the nurse to see what was going on. About 11:00 AM, she called the funeral home and said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ We agreed to meet at the officers club. She was very upset. She said, ‘Before I talk to you, you have to give me a sacred oath that you will never mention my name, because I could get into a lot of trouble.’ I agreed.

“She said she had gone to get supplies in a room where two doctors were performing a preliminarily autopsy. The doctors said they needed her to take notes during the procedure. She said she had never smelled anything so horrible in her life, and the sight was the most gruesome she had ever seen. She said, ‘This was something no one has ever seen.’ As she spoke, I was concerned that she might go into shock.

“She drew me a diagram of the bodies, including an arm with a hand that had only four fingers; the doctors noted that on the end of the fingers were little pads resembling suction cups. She said the head was disproportionately large for the body; the eyes were deeply set; the skulls were flexible; the nose was concave with only two orifices; the mouth was a fine slit, and the doctors said there was heavy cartilage instead of teeth. The ears were only small orifices with flaps. They had no hair, and the skin was black—perhaps due to exposure in the sun. She gave me the drawings.

“There were three bodies; two were very mangled and dismembered, as if destroyed by predators; one was fairly intact. They were three-and-a-half to four feet tall. She told me the doctors said: ‘This isn’t anything we’ve ever see before; there’s nothing in the medical textbooks like this.’ She said she and the doctors became ill. They had to turn off the air conditioning and were afraid the smell would go through the hospital. They had to move the operation to an airplane hangar.

“I drove her back to the officers’ barracks. The next day I called the hospital to see how she was, and they said she wasn’t available. I tried to get her for several days, and finally got one of the nurses who said the Lieutenant had been transferred out with some other personnel. About 10 days to two weeks later, I got a letter from her with an APO number. She indicated we could discuss the incident by letter in the future. I wrote back to her and about two weeks later the letter came back marked ‘Return to Sender—DECEASED.’ Later, one of the nurses at the base said the rumor was that she and five other nurses had been on a training mission and had been killed in a plane crash.

“Sheriff George Wilcox and my father were very close friends. The Sheriff went to my folks’ house the morning after the events at the base and said to my father, ‘I don’t know what kind of trouble Glenn’s in, but you tell your son that he doesn’t know anything and hasn’t seen anything at the base.’ He added, ‘They want you and your wife’s name, and they want your and your children’s addresses.’ My father immediately drove to the funeral home and asked me what kind of trouble I was in. He related the conversation with Sheriff Wilcox, and so I told him about the events of the previous day. He is the only person to whom I have told this story until recently.

“I had filed away the sketches the nurse gave me that day. Recently, at the request of a researcher, I tried to locate my personal files at the funeral home, but they had all been destroyed.”

Continue reading